Juliet Takes a Breath

No, I am decidedly NOT ashamed of reading teen lit. This was on the potential list for the Bluestockings book club and it provided a breath of fresh air.

Juliet is a queer Latina from the Bronx who (somewhat magically) gets a summer internship in PDX with a white feminist who wrote a book that inspired her. Right before leaving for the airport, she comes out to her close-knit Puerto Rican family and her mom is taken aback but eventually they work it out. In Portland, Juliet is disconcerted by all the white hippies, including a rant about their stinkiness that she eventually sees as an earthy smell. Her task for the summer is to take a box of scraps of paper with various women’s names on them and to research each for Harlowe, the author. The library is her source, resulting in this nice section:

Libraries are safe but also exciting. Libraries are where nerds like me go to refuel. They are safe-havens where the polluted noise of the outside world, with all the bullies and bro-dudes and anti-feminist rhetoric, is shut out. Libraries have zero tolerance for bullshit. Their walls protect us and keep up safe from all the bastards that have never read a book for fun.

Juliet is a 19-year-old struggling to figure life out, figure herself out, keep a long-distance relationship going with a girlfriend from school, find a way to be her best self and not bow down to the whiteness of the feminism she was swirling in. As she dives into the library stacks, she learns a ton, including what a banana republic is, and why horrifying it is that there’s a shop named after the concept. “It’s such a tongue-in-cheek fuck-you to countries that have been exploited for their natural resources…”

Of course her menstrual cycle syncs immediately with Harlowe’s in Portland. Surprised by the early period, she’s moaning about cramps and dying for an evil tampon when Harlowe suggests that she can bring her a sacred period ritual kit instead. It’s touches like this throughout the Portland chapters that are hilarious. There’s a struggle that is set up between white Harlowe and her WOC friends, including Juliet. At Harlowe’s Powell’s Books reading, she embarrasses Juliet by singling her out of the crowd and saying she’s a ghetto rat from the Bronx who is ok with Harlowe’s white feminism. Juliet immediately flies to Miami and spends a magical weekend with her cousin before coming back to Portland. This whole plot twist was a bit too much for me, but I guess it was necessary to show how women of color could create a safe space and have a great time without white feminists?

Also learned about Lolita Lebron, a Puerto Rican nationalist who shot up the House of Representatives in 1954 while demanding Puerto Rican independence.